Leo I, Pope, St.
LEO I, POPE, ST.
Pontificate: 440 to 461, called the Great, Doctor of the Church; b. probably Tuscany, the son of Quintianus, c. 400; d. Rome, Nov. 10, 461.
Life. Leo was deacon under Pope Celestine I (422–432), apparently entrusted with the care of the poor, and was possibly the acolyte mentioned as a Roman messenger to Africa by St. Augustine (Epist. 191.1). During the early difficulties over Nestorianism, he requested John cassian to prepare a treatise, De Incarnatione Domini (430), sending him documents from the papal chancery (praef. ). He was appealed to by cyril of alexandria for aid in curtailing the ambition of Juvenal of Jerusalem in 431 (Leo, Epist. 119.4). He was probably among the rectores romanae ecclesiae who drew up the syllabus on grace appended to the Letter of Pope Celestine to the bishop of Marseilles (P. Jaffé, Regesta pontificum romanorum ab condita ecclesia ad annum post Christum natum 1198, ed. F. Kaltenbrunner, 381) in which decisions of previous popes and synods in Africa are cited for the Church's doctrine (Patrologia Latina 45:175–660). prosper of aquitaine credited Leo with strengthening the stand of Pope sixtus iii in 439 against Julian of Eclanum (Chronicles. an. 439). Apparently at the request of the court of Ravenna, Leo was sent to Gaul
in the spring of 440 to mediate the quarrel between the Patrician Aetius and the Pretorian Prefect Albinus (Prosper, Chronicles. an. 441). During his absence, Sixtus died (Aug. 19, 440), and the populace elected Leo, who returned to Rome and was consecrated bishop on Sept. 29,440. In the sermon he preached on the occasion, Leo thanked the assembled clergy and populace for the confidence placed in him "absent on a long journey" (Ser. 1); and in four anniversary sermons at annual synods he described the bishops as "equal in the episcopacy, and in infirmities," but guided by "Peter in the person of Peter's successor" (Ser. 3.3), who is the "primate of all the bishops" (ibid. 4). He acknowledged the universal priesthood of the faithful presided over by Christ, whom the bishop of Rome represents, taking the place of Peter. Christ gave such great power to him whom he made ruler (principem ) of the whole Church so that "if anything is properly done or directed by us in our time" it is to be attributed to the activity of him to whom it was said, "And you converted, confirm your brethren" (Ser.4.2–4). Finally, Leo saw Peter functioning in the person of the pope (Ser. 5.2–4).
As bishop of Rome Leo dedicated himself to the priestly duty of preaching (sacerdotalis sermonis officium ), and sermons of his for the whole liturgical cycle have been preserved: 10 for Christmas, eight for Epiphany, 12 for Lent, 19 on the Passion, two for Easter, two for the Ascension, three for Pentecost, one on the Feast of St. Peter, and another for St. Lawrence, 22 for the Ember days, which he says are celebrated four times a year (Ser. 19.2), when the faithful fast on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday and celebrate the vigil of Sunday at St. Peter's. Six sermons (de collectis ) describe the distribution of alms to the poor as an Apostolic institution to offset pagan superstition (Ser. 6–11), and a sermon on Rome's deliverance, apparently from Genseric in 455, testifies to survivals of astrology, the circus, and pagan spectacles (Ser. 84). Leo reproved the custom of bowing toward the sun and condemned as paganitatis spiritu the notion that December 25 marks the rise of the New Sun rather than the birth of Christ (Ser. 27.4). He was also active in seeking to preserve the peace of his parishioners. He met with Attila the Hun at Mincio in Northern Italy and was successful in persuading him to withdraw from Italy. In 455, after Rome had been sacked by Genseric over a period of two weeks, he persuaded him to vacate the city with no further loss of life or property. In his efforts against heresy he prosecuted the Manichees (Ser.9.4; Epist. 7) and condemned the Monophysites who had come to Rome with merchants from Egypt (Ser. 9.4;96.1), the Pelagians (Epist. 1), and many other heretics.
To the bishops of the ten provinces of central and southern Italy under papal jurisdiction (corresponding in area to that of the civil vicarius Urbis ), Leo commended the decretalia constituta of his predecessors and demanded notification of election, with approbation and consecration in Rome, and attendance at the annual synods. He specified liturgical, canonical, pastoral uniformity, gave rules for the Church's patrimony (Jaffé, 414–417), and sent aid to Sicily after the Vandal invasion.
Milan, which was the imperial capital of the West, functioned, particularly under St. Ambrose, as the seat of the metropolitan for the seven North Italian provinces. But this did not prevent Leo from asserting his authority here. For example he ordered a synod at Milan (451) to accept his Tome to Flavian ; he vindicated the rights of Bishop Septimus of Altinum against the bishop of Aquileia (Jaffé, 398, 399), but congratulated Bishop Januarius of Aquileia for vigilance (ibid. 416), and in March 458 he settled a moral problem for Nicetas of Aquileia, ruling in favor of returned captives of war whose wives had taken a second husband in good faith (ibid. 536).
In dealing with the universal Church Leo was equally assertive. On July 27, 444, he acknowledged the succession of dioscorus as patriarch of Alexandria, spoke of the papal principatus apostolicus, and urged uniformity in canonical and liturgical practice (ut fide et actibus congruamus ; Jaffé, 406). When the Eutychian troubles began in Constantinople, Leo chided Bishop flavian for his delay in referring the matter to Rome, but supported him by sending his Tome to Flavian and legates to the Council of ephesus in 449; he later castigated the council as illud Latrocinium, that Robber Synod. He appealed in vain to Theodosius II to have its proceedings reversed, and on the accession of Marcian as Co-emperor with Pulcheria in August 450 he wrote to congratulate them. Though he preferred no council or one in Italy, he accepted Marcian's convocation of the Council of chalcedon and sent to it legates and his Tome. Though he refused to accept the jurisdictional ordination of canon 28, which gave Constantinople primacy in the Orient after Rome as the "New Rome," he finally confirmed the council's doctrinal decisions (453) and kept in close contact with the Emperor and, despite hesitations, with Anatolius the Patriarch and his own apocrisiarius, Julian of Cos, for information and action in attempting to have the council's decisions accepted among the Monophysite clergy and monks of Egypt, Palestine, and Syria. He kept abreast of ecclesiastical movements in the Orient, accepted the prerogative of Alexandria to set the annual date for Easter as of Nicene determination, and asserted papal rights over Eastern Illyricum, despite the claims of Constantinople. On the death of Marcian (457), the pope entered into cordial relations with Emperor Leo the Thracian, tolerated his hesitation to accept the pope's counsel regarding the support of Chalcedon, and encouraged him to safeguard the true faith even by intimidating or deposing bishops. In Africa, Pope Leo insisted upon the preservation of ecclesiastical statutes in the choice of bishops and in the resolution of scandals and disputes among clerics and bishops; but he cautioned great moderation, particularly under the Vandal vexations.
When Hilary of Arles, who had interfered in the affairs of many dioceses in Gaul and, in a synod in Rome discussing one of his interventions, withstood Leo to the face, Leo proved just but intransigent. He had Hilary confined to his diocese by an imperial edict (Novel. Valent. 17: July 8, 445) in which Emperor Valentinian III acknowledged the papal primacy. With his vicar in Illyricum, Anastasius of Thessalonica, Leo was almost brutal when he discovered that Anastasius had acted precipitously in dealing with his suffragans. "I gave you power as my vicar, but did not invest you with the plentitudo potestatis," said Leo, again recommending moderation in the use of power, and conceded that in governance, some things must be severely repressed, others, tolerated.
Doctrine. In regard to faith, Leo wrote no treatise, but he described the process of achieving faith: "We are led to the faith as it is proclaimed in the Gospel story and by prophetical instruments; so that we cannot hold as ambiguous what has been announced by so many oracles." The testimony of the Apostles renders Christ present: "We see what they saw; touch what they touched" (Ser.64.1; 73.1). He maintained that the Church and Christ do not live in the past: "Not in history alone do we know these things, but in virtue of present achievements" (Ser.63.6). God adorns his body the Church with innumerable charismatic gifts (Ser. 63.7). In the body of Christ (Ser.25.5; 46.3) sanctified by the Holy Spirit (Ser. 75.5), the members are held together by a consortium gratiae (Ser.89.5) excluding those who will not accept its belief and practice. It is the Holy Spirit who instructs in the Scriptures, and although frequently the mystery of the message is difficult to understand, there is never need for doubt (Ser. 66.1). Even the attack of heretics can render faith clearer and stronger through the assistance given the faithful by the Holy Spirit in overcoming difficulties (Epist. 102.1; 104.1). The Apostles' Creed is a "brief and perfect confession of the Catholic faith" (Epist. 31.4) and has already refuted the Nestorians and Eutychians. Leo expressed some hesitation before the ratiocinatio humana (Ser. 26.2) and the argumenta mundanae doctrinae (Ser. 69.5), placing his reliance in the mystery of the Redemption. He warned against the philosophical attempt to limit God to categories of space and time.
Adam's fall was occasioned by the temptation of the devil and the human desire for angelic honors (Ser. 25.5;30.6). But God in his mercy prepared a remedy from the beginnings of the universe (primordia mundi ; Ser. 22.1), sending a singular physician from the heavens, announced by great signs and prophecies (Ser. 12.1), His Son, the same in nature as man but sinless, and thus, as man, a perfect image and likeness of God (Ser. 64.2; Epist. 59.4). Born of a Virgin, Christ retained the paternal glory (Ser. 22.2). He is homoousios, of same substance as the Father, and consubstantial with his Mother as man (Ser. 30.6). Thus he has been able to accomplish human redemption (Ser. 56.1; Epist. 35.1), which neither the Mosaic Law nor the Prophets could achieve (Ser. 23.3). The cross of Christ is thus a sacrament or mystery, and the altar is for the oblation of humanity through this salutary Host (Ser. 55.3), and is for all men at all times (Ser.23.4).
Human redemption unto liberty should be exercised in observance of evangelical discipline in the works of mercy and the love of justice, which have been perfected and augmented by the Savior (Ser. 63.5; 92.1). Human dignity, given by Christ, is supported by Grace so that the person can love what God loves and abstain from what displeases God (Ser. 94.2), who gives both the desire for doing good to the will, and efficacy to the action placed (Ser. 38.3). While humanity recognizes the revolt of concupiscence, the person should still be more conscious of his regeneration in Christ through Baptism and the Sacraments (Ser. 90.1; 18.1; 98.1).
In Baptism the contagion of the ancient damnation is burnt out, so that the human person becomes the body of Christ (Epist. 59.4). While the person is still in the body, there is no need for despair since correction is to be hoped for by all (Ser. 34.5).
Lent is the time for expiating faults both grave and small through penance (Ser. 43.3; 45.1). Fasting, almsgiving, and prayer, particularly in unison with the Church, are the principal means of obtaining pardon; for the tears of the penitent through the apostolic key open the gates of God's mercy (Ser. 49.3), since penance disarms God's justice (Ser. 92.1). This pardon is exercised through the power of the keys confided to the bishops, who should exhort to penance and apply forgiveness most mercifully, particularly to those in danger of death (Epist. 108.2; Ser. 5.5).
The Eucharist is the sacrament of Christ's body and blood, fulfilling the sacrifice once for all, offered to God (Ser. 54.3). It should be received with faith so that there is no doubt in the mind of those answering Amen as to the reality of the body and blood of Christ that they receive (Ser. 91.30; Epist. 69.2). Leo spoke of the chrismatio of the baptized, whom the "Sign of the Cross makes kings and the unction of the Holy Spirit makes priests" (Ser. 4.1), and he mentioned the clarior ordo levitarum (deacons), the greater dignity of priests, and the sacratior unctio sacerdotum (bishops; Ser. 69.7; 66.2). He distinguished between the three hierarchical orders (Epist.12.5) and mentioned subdiaconate, all four orders being subject to the law of continence (Epist. 14.4).
Ecclesiastical Governance. In the government of the Church, Leo set down norms of propriety and moderation whereby, the onus of evil being lifted, a differential in correction is required; for certain things are to be tolerated, others, cut out (Epist. 12.15). The Church should ever apply moderation, acting severely with the obdurate, but quickly giving forgiveness to those who repent and strive for correction (Epist. 30.1). Nevertheless, care must be taken to preserve the statuta of the Apostolic See and the decrees and authority of the canons (Epist. 1.1). The bishops form a society of charity, throughout the whole world preserving the integrity of communion (Epist. 80.1), and this fraternal union in charity and peace is served by the confession of one faith (Epist. 130.2).
Leo conceded that the emperor, whose subject he was as a Roman, was endowed with regalia potentia and sacerdotalis industria (Epist. 115.1; 116). He attributed to Leo the Thracian both a royal and sacerdotal spirit (mens ; Epist. 155.2) and reminded him of his care for the universal church. In the end, however, Leo conceded that there was fundamental difference between imperial politics and the administration of the Church, each having its own proper function.
Of Leo's writings only 96 sermons and 173 letters (of which 20 are considered spurious and 30 were written to him) have survived. It is certain that Leo had Prosper of Aquitaine as secretary and that in the composition of papal documents the curial style was achieved by experts. Leo's sermons are of his own composition, but they exhibit an extremely polished antithetical style that indicates they were refashioned before publication. However, they are excellent instruments of the exhortation to sanctity, with scriptural foundation and an ecclesiastical awareness that enters deeply into the supernatural mystery of salvation, which Leo accommodated to the everyday needs and interests of his people on a liturgically effective plane. Considerable research has been done on the sacramentaries to ferret out Leo's contribution to the liturgical life of the Church; but in this field few certainties have been attained. What is certain is that the sacramentary bearing his name is a compilation of orations and prefaces of the Mass made in the sixth century. Although the Leonine Sacramentary is not wholly Leonine, it still remains as the oldest extant form of the Roman Missal. Leo's greatness is assured in the fundamentally spiritual approach he exercised in his daily pastoral instruction for the sanctification of his people. He is admittedly the greatest administrator of the ancient Church, the man who truly amalgamated ecclesiastical procedure with Roman law and put a juridical structure under the Roman primacy that has withstood the toll of 16 centuries. But his true significance resides in his doctrinal insistence on the mystery involved in Christ and the Church and in the supernatural charisms of the spiritual life accorded to man in Christ and in His body the Church. In keeping with this concept, Leo firmly believed that everything he did and said as pope for the governance of the Church was participated in by Christ, the head of the mystical body, and concurred in by St. Peter, in whose place Leo acted (cujus vice fungimur ).
Feast: April 11, June 28; (Greek Church, Feb. 18).
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[f. x. murphy]